This blog entry will comment on Dr. Martin Balluch’s essay, “Abolitionism versus Reformism,” then on Francione’s attack on the essay, and finally, I will make some observations regarding Balluch's reply to Francione.
Dr. Balluch appears correct when he states that both animal “welfarist” reformism and animal rights start with empathy and compassion. Thus he is able to state: “The ideology of animal rights and the animal rights movement have their psychological and political roots in animal welfare.” He states that there is a “deep philosophical gulf” between animal welfare and animal rights, but psychologically and politically they are on a continuum. I would comment that there is indeed a gulf in terms of magnitude of respect. However, animal rights and animal “welfare” not only start with empathy, they build respect for animal interests such as welfare and freedom by degrees, and so they can be conceived on a philosophical continuum, wherein animal “welfare” often involves pitiful dispensations of protection for these animal interests, and animal rights affords very strong degrees of protection for these same interests.
It is incredible that in no small part due to Balluch’s activism along with legions of other people, Austria has recently achieved breakthroughs such as no dogs and cats being used for fur or meat, no fur farming, no animal circuses, and no vivisection of great apes. Balluch argues that these reforms leave behind “pure welfarist ideals.” I would agree with him there. My own understanding is that traditional welfarism would just make fur-farming, animal circuses, and vivisection of great apes “kinder,” but these laws eliminate these practices. That is why these reforms fall into the second of the three categories I use in my animal activism guide:
- traditional animal “welfarism”
- partial abolitionist
- total abolitionist.
These reforms are partial abolitionist since they eradicate a part of the animal exploitation spectrum. It is pretty much impossible to exploit animals in certain ways now in Austria. Balluch also notes that activists there have achieved language in their very Constitution: “The state protects life and well-being of animals as cohabitants of humans.” Balluch does not comment on this much, but this seems like a huge breakthrough. I have argued for a right to welfare or well-being, along with rights to freedom, life, respect, and nonviolence. Animal rights protects the good of animals and is the only true form of “animal welfare” as I have argued elsewhere. The idea of animals as “cohabitants” puts nonhumans on the same playing field as humans, at least conceptually, and that is very dramatic. So is making their lives significant. As well, in Austria there are now “animal solicitors” whose governmental job it is to work on behalf of animals in the court system.
It is thrilling to read an analysis of movement strategy by someone who has already achieved so very much. He states that his approach in campaigns is never to try to change individual minds, but to attack industries and businesses. Doing so creates a different social climate that is more favorable to animal welfare and rights, he believes, and the public will just go with the flow or take the path of least resistance if certain types of animal exploitation are banned: they will not seek it in other countries.
Balluch characterizes politics as purely consequentialist, or it is to be judged solely by consequences. I do not see that as necessary, although a concern with consequences is vital. A nonconsequentialist philosophy can animate political changes (e.g., my theory of best caring ethics). But I do not think we really disagree here. Later, he comments that abstract-rational theory can be deontological whereas politics is consequentialist. Perhaps on his thinking, we can even think of attaining deontological ethics as a consequence of a campaign. Here we are probably spinning our conceptual wheels. He states that government will side with whoever kicks up the most “fuss,” and produces the most political pressure. This Balluch has learned by extensive experience.
Specific tactics used that did not involve trying to change individual minds:
- protesting outside each animal circus show to make it “no fun” for those attending; after 6 years all wild animal circuses went bankrupt, and with no political opposition, it became easy to introduce a ban
- there were already 86% of the public opposed to battery cages, so it was easy to win political allies and to extensively badger the Conservatives to eventually take a more popular stand
I would caution about his analysis here though. No doubt it is true they did not try to argue with individuals about the ethics of these things, and “social climate” is vitally important in winning major changes. He states that humans are social animals more than rational animals. Perhaps. But protests no doubt not only made it “not fun” to attend animal circuses. I am sure the public also got an ethical message not least of all. Similarly, with the 86% of public support, that is individual minds that were changed. So his campaigns might rest on changing minds after all, although not perhaps as a direct tactic.
Balluch addresses the concern that reforms will calm consciences and people will suddenly consume without a second thought. He says there is no data on this question, but writes:
A positive image for animal welfare, after all, means that compassion and empathy for animals get a higher value, and that means there is more support for further animal welfare reforms. And if people do open up to the idea of animal welfare and its underlying motives, then the experience shows that they are more likely to be prepared to think about animal rights. Animal welfare and empathy form the psychological basis for animal rights.
This seems to me to be right, and is additionally supported by Balluch’s experience that there have been more and more animal protectionist laws in Austria since his successful campaigns.
Balluch offers some commentary on some who profess an “abolitionist” approach. He is too generous, I think, in leaving that name entirely to Francione and others. Balluch too favours veganism and abolishing animal exploitation. He claims that Francione is arbitrary as to what is called abolitionist and what is called animal welfarist. I have proved that Balluch is right in “Animal Rights Law” in which the same measures that welfarists would support are called “abolitionist.” Also, my blog entries proving that Francione’s measures are conceptually more like animal “welfarist” laws than animal rights laws supports Balluch’s point here. Balluch similarly criticizes Lee Hall’s uncompromising “abolitionist or nothing” approach. Balluch favors attacking the animal industries rather than trying to convince people, although he agrees that: “Using rational arguments, we can argue convincingly that animal rights is the ethical ideal.” He recommends centring campaign material on suffering and stimulating compassion and empathy in people rather than abstract-rational phrases. I agree that this sometimes may be more advantageous in terms of contemporary media since only sound-bites and flash-images are generally permitted, although I would speculate that progress towards abolition cannot be won without discussing the very ideas we wish to one day infuse in our laws.
Overall, I find Balluch’s analysis important. We should try to counter industry since he has been so successful in doing so. I do not see why that cannot be accompanied with trying to convince people though, and I have argued how his campaigns are seemingly dependent on people being convinced ethically. People were stimulated ethically at his circus protests, and that is why it was no longer “fun” to get inside and see the animals perform. That must be the only reason, since activists were not allowed to disrupt actual circus shows. Moreover, the 86% support for battery cage bans was a result of individuals being convinced. So he sells this aspect short. I am however nonetheless thrilled with his example, courage and achievement.
Now enter Francione’s commentary on Balluch’s essay. Francione claims there is no new approach to the rights/welfare debate in Balluch’s approach, conveniently ignoring Balluch’s new emphasis on not trying to convince individuals, and focusing instead on industry/business and the resulting social climate. This is indeed new, and Francione is too stingy to fail to recognize this, instead emphasizing only what Balluch has in common with other theories. Although Balluch has achieved, with his comrades, more legislative change than People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) or any other group, Francione does not have anything positive to say about Balluch’s achievements except a grudging concession that it is good that apes will no longer be vivisected, followed by Francione’s swift recondemnation of the Great Ape Project. Francione dismisses Balluch’s inspired, carefully thought-out paper as “long” and “convoluted,” rather than seeing an insightful analysis by someone with uniquely relevant experiences. Balluch and his cohort are not only pioneers, as are setters of weird and useless records in Guinness. He is an important pioneer in the history of the animal protection movement.
Francione frames Balluch as someone who would promote “welfarist” reforms rather than vegan education, and I think he might be right about that. I believe in vegan education as part of a full-spectrum approach. Also, ethical education: again, Balluch’s campaigns push off the platform of previous ethical education. Francione makes the tired old point that we would not push for more humane rape or child molestation, ignoring the point I made in my MIRROR PRODUCTION of “Animal Rights Law”:
It might be objected that we do not propose abolishing child abuse by degrees or asking to make it merely “kinder.” However, this is not an analogous case, since there are already laws and norms against such abuse. Even calling for the norm in child abuse means calling for its end, since that form of violence is normally unacceptable in modern societies. But calling for “normal treatment” of animals merely invites further abuse of these sensitive beings. Exposing animal abuse does not mean shutting it down unlike human abuse. That animal abuse is morally wrong does not make its abolition possible in the short-term, and thus may not change what is really best to choose in the near-term. No less damning is the point that, metaphorically speaking, Francione only abolishes child abuse by degrees too: after all, he will protect some animal interests but others not at all, or accept banning some areas of animal exploitation though not others. That is more like eradicating degrees of child abuse than eradicating the whole thing. He does not notice that he is guilty of that which he denounces.
Francione says animal welfare “does not work,” and only is conceded if it is economically beneficial. However, Balluch’s campaign to end battery cages was ethical, as he writes in his essay in In Defense of Animals, and alternative arrangements for hens are more expensive since more space is required, and also more food since hens use more energy moving around, as Balluch notes in "Abolitionism versus Reformism." These laws “work” in reducing suffering, but apparently that does not create any kind of blip on Francione’s radar. The legislation also works in promoting kindness culture, but of course that has not been taken account of in Francione’s thinking either. Francione protests that we should not marginalize veganism, but it is hard to see how Balluch is altogether doing that by trying to promote veganism in the way he thinks most effective. I agree though that vegan education is evidently being given an insufficient priority by Balluch. Balluch doubts there can be successful vegan outreach, but where I live, the Toronto Animal Rights Society holds outdoor video education displays and we make a lot of converts, and additionally, I teach Critical Animal Studies at Brock University and the films as well as the arguments happen to have an impact in convincing people to go vegetarian, etc.
Francione claims that people have already opposed animal suffering for a long time, but there is no evidence of an abolitionist direction. As I point out in “Animal Rights Law,” though, Sweden banned fur farming too and have signaled intent to ban trapping as well. That is a clear counterexample. The building up of bans in Austria is also evidence of what I call “partial abolitionism.” It is too soon to say what an animal rights pragmatist approach can accomplish since while animal kindness is somewhat old, animal liberation is still a historical novelty.
Francione mistakenly writes that on Balluch’s model, the general public is irrelevant, and instead we should go after the animal industries. Francione read dismissively rather than with care. Balluch noted that his reforms depended on 86% support of banning battery cages, and on people ceasing to turn out in sufficient numbers to animal circuses. What Balluch clearly stated was that the public as mere observers plays no role. Their role as consumers, indicators of public support, and as voters for politicians were absolutely and explicitly crucial to Balluch’s campaign. Francione distorts Balluch’s actual position, stating that the latter “indicates a profound lack of understanding of the political process,” meanwhile Francione is busy demonstrating a profound lack of grasp of what Balluch is truly saying.
Francione states dogmatically that welfare reform does not weaken animal industries. As Balluch stated, however, he helped shut down various types of industry. It costs more to switch gears if your fur farming is banned, or rabbit cage farming. And the industry for vivisecting great apes was not only weakened, but abolished!
Instead of stating anything positive about the animal circus bans, Francione notes that this does not ban domestic animal circuses. The constitutional amendment which I praised earlier is dismissed by Francione as what is similarly found in animal weflare laws. Francione misses the positives I accentuated above, even of any constitutional presence of animal protectiveness which is extremely rare. Rather than offer more than grudging praise of banning vivisecting apes, Francione reiterates his opposition to the Great Ape Project, a tactical direction that would have crippled Balluch’s campaign to win this protection for the apes. That is because Francione disallows focusing on apes as special, but lack of focus is fatal to any hope of a specific campaign. Francione states that animal welfare reforms do not do damage to industry, not noting the abolition of certain industry types. Francione cites a Humane Society of the United States study showing that banning the gestation crate is economically cost-effective, as though this disproves it is of any value to animals. Something can make a difference in being much less cruel to sows while also saving “producers” money. For some reason, Francione thinks that if anti-cruelty is cost-effective, it can no longer really curb cruelty. Where is the logic in that? It is just as illogical as Francione concluding that we cannot have “two-track activism” where one track is clearly wrong. Francione has not shown one iota how solid “welfarist” campaigns are either ethically or practically wrong.
Francione thinks he is clever in stating that it is absurd to promote welfarism in order to undermine it. This conveniently ignores that pragmatists can promote abolition of speciesism and welfarism at the same time, as PETA does, and also, higher forms of protection of interests can very well lead to higher and higher recognitions of interests—until we get to animal rights. It is only unclear how animal “welfare” can lead to animal rights if one lacks a clear sense of degrees of protection of interests.
In reading Francione’s response, I get the sense of extreme negativism, and grudgingness to concede any progress. I see in Balluch someone who really achieves things that are tremendously positive both for the short-term and the long-term. Balluch is really doing things for animals rather than undermining animal protection from the theoretical fringe as Francione does in a theoretically ineffective manner. Balluch is showing us a great road for progress that Francione would like nothing more than to block. Ideological blindness prevents him from seeing the importance of suffering-reduction as both a short- and long-term measure. When will the world wake up and follow Balluch’s visionary lead?
Balluch himself has responded to Francione’s commentary at: http://www.vgt.at/publikationen/texte/artikel/20080325Abolitionism/20080414index_en.php It is a devastatingly effective reply. The reader is of course encouraged to read the original papers. Balluch is quite right that Francione does not reply to most of his arguments, and takes other arguments out of context as though Balluch is arguing that “welfare” laws lead to abolition when that is not what is being argued at all. Francione accuses Balluch of statistical inaccuracy, in effect, in claiming that 35% fewer eggs are consumed in Austria, but Balluch was able to account for Francione’s faulty figure and to cite an authoritative source, the Laying Hen Producers Association. Balluch offers a clear counterexample to Francione’s claim that animal “welfarist” reforms only facilitate more profitable exploitation: many fur farms go bankrupt! Balluch gives examples of how we accept reformism in human cases: most think animal rights activists should not be locked up at all, but as long as they are, they should have vegan options, etc.
However, I continue to take issue with some of Balluch’s claims. Balluch argues that confrontational political campaigns are needed and friendly talk with individuals does not work. Here, again, I express some skepticism. Confrontational political campaigns do indeed work, and are needed to be effective as Balluch has shown in real life. But Balluch had popular support, and that is based on individuals quietly and peacefully figuring out the issues, often in conversation with others or from reading literature. Balluch reaffirms that while there is a psychological continuum between animal “welfare” and animal rights, there is a philosophical gulf between them, but I have disputed that above with my degrees of interests model. Balluch writes:
It is a very rare occasion that a person becomes vegan after hearing theoretical animal rights philosophical arguments. Its [sic] suffering and the feeling of compassion that moves people, i.e. animal welfare, to turn to animal rights. That’s because humans are social and rather not rational animals.
He may be right about this to a large extent. However, these dynamics may change as ethical theory becomes more advanced and more integrated into the education system. Once a lot of the suffering is cleaned up, we will need to rely on philosophical arguments to win animal rights.
Overall, I argue that a multifaceted approach is needed: educating individuals to build economic and political support for animal rights, as well as confronting animal exploitation industries and political figures as Balluch and his fellow activists have so masterfully done.
FURTHER READING ON ANIMAL RIGHTS INCREMENTALISM
A Selection of Related Articles
Sztybel, David. "Animal Rights Law: Fundamentalism versus Pragmatism". Journal for Critical Animal Studies 5 (1) (2007): 1-37.
Short version of "Animal Rights Law".
Sztybel, David. "Incrementalist Animal Law: Welcome to the Real World".
Sztybel, David. "Sztybelian Pragmatism versus Francionist Pseudo-Pragmatism".
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